Guatemala: Statement from organisation of acquitted human rights defender

Date: 2004-02-03

Human Rights House Foundation was among the human rights agencies who sent appeals to the freshly inaugurated Guatemalan president Oscar Berger, requesting instant action on Bruce Harris´s behalf to save him from up to eight years´ imprisonment, a hefty fine and instant deportation as soon as the sentence had been served. Now that the story has instead reached its fortunate conclusion, and Harris is once again free to continue his work for the street children of Guatemala, the New York-based Catholic charity Casa Alianza / Covenant House´s has issued a statement. The following is the full text of this statement:

Guatemala: The First Penal Judge of First Instance closed a criminal accusation presented against Bruce Harris in 1997 by the ex-Judge Aida Marizuya Rabasso for the supposed crime of "lack of respect for a Judge". The decision was known soon after the conclusions of another suit against Harris by the 12th Criminal Sentencing Court, which absolved Harris the crimes (under Guatemalan law) of slander, calumny, and defamation in an accusation placed against him by the notary Susana Luarca de Umana. The two cases are closely related as both accusations were placed against Harris after a press conference held by the Solicitor General and Casa Alianza on September 11th 1997, that revealed a series of anomalies in international adoptions from Guatemala. Harris mentioned the name of Judge Marizuya, then an employee of the judiciary, because she would send babies, declared by her to be in abandonment, to the "Association Los Ninos de Guatemala," which then adopted the babies to foreign couples at between US$ 15.000 and US$ 20.000 each. The legal advisor to this organisation was the notary Susana Luarca de Umana.

It was on January 30th 2004 that the 12th Criminal Sentencing Court absolved Harris of all accusations and civil responsibility presented by Luarca de Umana, former wife of the ex-President of the Guatemalan Supreme Court. Then Judge Marizuya presented the demand against Harris on October 16th 1997 - a few days after the notary's accusation - as she considered Harris's declarations had offended her honour as a First Judge of First Instance of Minors. The Judge accused Harris of "lack of respect for a judge" under articles 410 and 411 of the Criminal Code, despite the fact that those articles had been declared in violation of the American Convention of Human Rights. More than six years later, the First Penal Judge of First Instance accepted a petition by the Public Prosecutor to reject the case and file it, which was just notified to Harris, the accused. The Public Prosecutor determined that they could not proceed against Harris for lack of respect for a judge as Marizuya, who has since been separated from her job, pretended.

"We are very pleased because this accusation against me was directly related to the comments I made regarding international adoptions in 1997 at a press conference. Now we have two cases within a short period of time which should be considered as two steps forward for Guatemala's freedom of expression and for the well-being of the country's children," Harris said.

In Guatemala Article 35 of the Constitution states that "no crime is committed by publications that contain complaints, criticism or claims and against functionaries or State employees for actions taken whilst in power," which is why the ex-judge was not in a position to accuse Harris of any crime.

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